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Not Just Pulling Stunts: Leo Kei Angelos Charts His Course from Stunt Coordinator to Writer/Director

30 Sep , 2009  

Written by Kerry O’Donnell | Posted by:

From Vietnam to the United States, and from stunt coordinator to writer/director, Leo Kei Angelos charts how he has made it so far so fast.

When you talk with Leo Kei Angelos, it’s easy to forget that he’s only 21 years old. He exudes an air of focus and commitment to his art that is rarely seen in others his age. His resume is impressive, having worked on four feature films, 10 short films and eight music videos, in positions that range from stunt coordinator, camera operator, unit director, director of photography, all the way to producer/director. What makes it more impressive is that he has only been in the United States for four years.

“I always knew I wanted to make movies but I never knew it was possible before coming here. I came here and found it was within my grasp,” said Kei Angelos in a recent interview with He was born and raised in Saigon and came to Boston when he was 17 years old to attend the Massachusetts College of Art and Design. His father is a photographer, so he grew up watching his father create. “My earliest memory is working in the dark room with my father, sitting on his lap, with the smell of chemicals all around.”

His childhood in Vietnam was very regimented. He attended school six days per week, from 6 am to 5 pm. Sundays were his only days off. As an outlet, his father encouraged him to study martial arts.

His only other escape from the required rigid schedule was to watch movies. So he spent hours watching bootleg American and Hong Kong movies. He grew up “wanting to make movies like Jackie Chan and tell stories like Tim Burton.” He said, “I loved Tim Burton films because they were about people who were different from society.”

His father had also taught him English when he was a child, so he grew up bilingual. This made the transition when he came to Boston to attend school much easier. While attending college, he started training in stunt work, specifically in martial arts. He also started filming short films, especially many of the stunt training sessions he was participating in. He left school after two years because he found he was receiving more of an education by actually being on set than in the classroom. He wanted to make narrative films but found the school’s program was geared more toward art movies. He worked on sets in a variety of positions: production assistant, grip, etc., learning all the different hands it takes to make a film.

His stunt training has enabled him to travel around the country and he has studied with what he described as “some pretty prolific stunt people.” His travels have included Chicago and Colorado. Although very much aware that budget restraints in independent films can be prohibitive, he is concerned that independent filmmakers don’t always think having a stunt coordinator is necessary. Safety, he says, should always be of the utmost concern.

After working on so many films for others, Kei Angelos is in the process of producing and directing a feature film of his own. His film, called Pins and Needles, is a martial arts action movie retelling of the fairytale, Little Red Riding Hood. It’s a project he envisioned a year ago, and worked on a trailer. The response to the trailer has been overwhelming and Kei Angelos is currently in talks with a New York production company that is very interested in working with him. When watching the trailers, one does get the feel of a Jackie Chan movie, but with a Tim Burton storytelling element.

“I don’t want to do action just for action sake,” said Kei Angelos. “Action helps tell the story.” His dream is to someday visit his homeland of Vietnam and tell the stories that are waiting to be told. As he shared this dream, the emotion in his eyes was visible.

Kei Angelos’ advice for others with dreams that seem unattainable is to stay focused and take every opportunity given, don’t waste them. “Do what you love and follow your dreams. Sometimes there are sacrifices, but it is worth it in the end.’

Check out Leo online:

Check out Leo online: